Musings & Insights

It’s time to confront our communications chasm

We need to re-learn how to listen.

All of us.

We need to re-learn how to listen because if this election has taught us anything, it’s that our collective communications are now systemically broken. Band-aids can no longer fix us.

When I speak of communications, I’m referring to how we connect and educate ourselves through the media and how we interact as individuals.

So how have we found ourselves in this siloed, ignorant, fearful, untrusting land of barrier-building bubbles? Over the past quarter century, and especially this last decade, our communications have been fractured by the culmination of three detrimental trends.

The Collapse of Journalism:

The fourth branch of government as protected by the First Amendment is on life support. Having worked for the Associated Press from early 2001 through 2012, I had a front-row seat to the decline of potent journalism. I witnessed first hand the behind-the-scenes decisions that have heavily contributed to the mess we as a society are in today.

It’s no secret that newspapers are a dying breed, that almost all remaining newsrooms are struggling to keep afloat economically, and that painful cutbacks are par for the course. But what has yet to be discussed is how these election results are directly linked to the dire consequences of these harsh cutbacks. Specifically:

• National newsrooms no longer have a presence of effective reporters at the state and local level. Many now have only one individual covering entire regions, if they’re lucky. As a result, too many voices are not being heard, especially those away from urban hubs, and the resulting reporting has skewed toward assumptions and generalizations.

• Too many investigative journalists no longer have the support, resources and platform to do their jobs effectively, if allowed to do that type of work at all. As a result, superficiality reigns, and it’s almost impossible for the most critical stories of truth to power to see the light of day and be taken seriously.

• Newsrooms no longer have enough internal quality-control watchdogs who will stand up against the herd and fight for accuracy, accountability and the full-breadth of facts and perspectives. Those still trying to fight the good fight are overworked and marginalized, too frequently forced to sacrifice their health and quality of work. As a result, a disproportionate number of malleable yes-men and women newspeople end up picking their battles to prioritize surviving difficult work environments.

• Financial survival now only exists with the support of those with the deepest pockets, which has unveiled mixed results. While Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has successfully transformed the Washington Post into arguably the healthiest, highest-quality national publication in the country, too many others are now owned by billionaires who would prefer to convert hard news into propaganda.

The unfortunate side effect of all of this is that now, too many Americans who value knowledge are lost in a sea of inconsistency, confusion and broken trust, and far too many of those who feel ignored have surrendered to ignorance.

This dangerous lack of knowledge on all sides gives rise to fear, panic and uncertainty – which is the crossroads we now find ourselves.

The Rise of Infotainment:

This is not the first time an entertainer with the public persona of being a “tough guy” has been elected to govern the land. In that regard, Donald Trump is simply following the footsteps of Ronald Reagan, Jesse Ventura and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

What sets this election apart beyond the bigoted overtones, is that this is the first time we have witnessed the melding of sensationalist broadcast news with reality television. The various factions of broadcast media – entertainment, news and advertising – no longer simply intersect, but are now completely entwined. As a result, many Americans can no longer decipher the difference between hard news reporting and editorializing – or rather, the difference between logical facts and feelings. And whenever it comes to persuading action, feelings will almost always trump facts (pun intended).

A significant chunk of those who voted for Trump feel they know him as the commanding leader from “The Apprentice,” which the media defined as “reality” programming – a faulty label that can be misconstrued as appearing to be as real as “60 Minutes.” That can create a confusing misinterpretation of character when compared to the racist, misogynistic, psychopathic, narcissistic entertainer and salesman who was on display throughout the campaign.

Hillary Clinton’s public narrative is just as convoluted, as she has always been a deeply polarizing figure. She rose to prominence as first lady in tandem with the rise of 24-hour broadcast news scandals, from Whitewater to her husband’s impeachment. The news media helped define her in the 1990s as a shady individual, and then entertainment spent the next 16 years editorialized their dream factory prophecy that she was destined to be the first woman president. The seeds may have appeared to be innocent, like when the “Gilmore Girls” in the 2000s made quips about “when Hillary becomes president.” However, when “Saturday Night Live” repeatedly declared that she would win throughout their election coverage this past year, they helped tip the scales against her.

Also, both candidates rose to prominence in the same period that embraced the “anti-hero” as a preferred protagonist in our increasingly nihilistic popular storytelling. From “The Sopranos” to “Breaking Bad” to “House of Cards” to “How to Get Away With Murder” to name just a few, we have become comfortable rooting for shady characters who manipulatively rise to power.

These assertions may oversimplify the contrasting interpretation of these two characters. But make no mistake, they are carefully crafted characters in our real-world reality programming nonetheless. Our resulting acceptance of these blurred lines between fact and fiction has only added to our current conflict.

The Rise of Social Media:

With the rise of infotainment and demise of quality journalism, it’s not very surprising that social media has filled the gap as a go-to place for information and connection.

One of the biggest problems with social media is that it has enhanced the geographic and ideological divides in this country. Everyone can now comfortably preach to the choir in the safety of their own homes and only believe what they choose to believe. What began as a demographic divide between Fox News and MSNBC/Comedy Central has morphed into deep segregated trenches. Too much of what is shared through social media is propaganda masked as factual journalism.

That doesn’t mean that it’s all disinformation and polarizing opinions. I appreciate how social media provides an outlet for a wide range of voices to speak out. Former CBS lead anchor Dan Rather has been especially effective with his use Facebook as a tool for quality information and reflection to break through the noise.

However, all of the sharing doesn’t guarantee that voices are heard. In fact, the land of semi-anonymous commenting has provided a safe haven for extreme viewpoints to shout out without consequence and feel empowered to silence those with opposing outlooks. Instead of engaging in healthy debate, the format inspires us to ignore and demean those who question, and to respond by swiftly running away from conflict. As showcased in the three presidential debates, differences of opinion have now degraded into: I’m right. You’re wrong. Full stop.

And when it comes to how we communicate with one another in all facets of life, digital walls have become some of our greatest barriers. Just think about the evolution. For centuries we would connect by meeting up face to face and writing letters. Phone calls enabled us to maintain meaningful connections regardless of physical proximity. Emails replaced letters as a way to articulate deep thoughts with one another in real time.

But now the trend is to text, swipe, tweet, post and comment. While it makes it easy for anyone to speak, we are now embedded in a system that no longer requires us to listen.

We need to re-learn how to listen.

Our Opportunity to Course Correct:

While our uncertain future appears to be heading toward an unsettling fight in defense of inclusion, the overt exposure of our broken system has opened up the landscape where I can see flickers of opportunity to course correct.

As I wrote in my post “Conflicted States of America,” our deepest chasm is not the ideological divide between liberals and conservatives. It’s between the extremists on both sides motivated by competition and narcissistic tendencies, unwilling to comprehend that the other side has a right to exist.

One of the most important ways for us to protect our human rights, civil liberties, economic futures and educational goals is to mend fences from the bottom up. To those of us on both sides of the aisle who thrive on cooperation, collaboration and connection – we must step up and reach out beyond our bubbles.

We must open ourselves up to empathy for the other side. We must recognize that not everyone who voted for Trump is a racist bigot who wants violent enforcement against anyone who isn’t a white working-class fundamentalist Christian. We also must recognize that not everyone who voted for Clinton is a smug, elitist asswipe or a criminal who appears to benefit by abusing the system. We also must not take any of the extreme characterizations personally, and instead learn from them and take responsibility for our actions.

Many individuals who voted for Trump also voted for Obama. They voted for the outsider who would shake up the system. They are suffering, so they voted for change in an attempt to feel heard.

So let’s come together, listen to each other, learn from one another, collaborate and brainstorm new solutions that can create positive change.

If you have any ideas for how we can bridge the chasm, please reach out.

I’m all ears.

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You can reach me directly at carrie@clo-communications.com

Learn more at OutoftheBoxConnections.com and CLO-Communications.com

Conflicted States of America

While Americans have grown accustomed to the increasingly entrenched red-blue divide, our more polarizing wedge has become the division between those who strive for empathetic human decency and those motivated by self-preservation anchored in fear and antagonism.

Those driven by compassion and cooperation can span the full spectrum of the traditional ideological divide. For example, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, liberal human rights organizations and conservative church groups all came together to help Gulf Coast residents rebuild and recover. Also, when looking at our nation’s hunger and nutrition crisis, both sides take action to support those in need, from soup kitchens and food drives managed by religious organizations to those who support funding for the government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

On the flip side, the extreme right and the extreme left actually have quite a bit in common. Both sides are fueled by an intolerant, moral superiority that feeds the debilitating flames of hostility and close-mindedness. Whether watching Fox News or listening to a judgmental food practitioner, both extremes have a myopic definition of what they consider to be right and wrong. Their competitive natures breed distrust, disdain and intolerance of others, fracturing discourse into self-segregated communities built upon combative self-righteousness.

Liberals too often condescend and belittle conservatives for being stupid and irrational. Their overbearing pretentiousness oozes with fuming disrespect. On the other extreme, the conservative fear-mongering that breeds a distrust of the “lame-stream” media fuels a dangerous ignorance and a violent hatred toward those deemed different, and therefore threatening. For some reason, those who fight for equal rights somehow threaten those who view that fight as a danger to individual rights.

Yet when you step back and think about it, we all want the human right to have individual rights, and it doesn’t have to be at the expense of others. But somehow all of this mounting fear and distrust has created an increasingly volatile environment where arrogance pummels reason, defensive combativeness wages war against respectful human decency and hatred suffocates love.

Extremism of any kind is dangerous. Instead of oversimplifying others into broad categories of me, us and them, we can alternatively open ourselves up to tolerance and nurture a united state of inclusivity.

my life as a both-brained ambivert

As a culture, we like boxes. We like classifications. We like it when we receive a specific diagnosis of personality traits that enables us to confidently express our strengths and have clarity for our weaknesses.

There’s a reason why viral social media content so often involves a multiple-choice questionnaire that somehow manages to magically define who we are. I’m a sucker for those personality tests, mostly because my computer-manufactured conclusions tend to be amusingly all over the place. They are consistently inconsistent, especially with the left-brain/right-brain designations.

Interestingly, I have yet to take an online test that defines me as both-brained. I am always either extreme right-brained or extreme left-brained, depending on how the questions and answers are presented. More often than not, my genuine response tends to be a variation of “both,” “sometimes,” “it depends,” “none” or “all of the above” – most of which are rarely options.

Fortunately, I’ve grown to not only accept being so indefinable, but to embrace it. I take great pride in being a highly organized, super creative, meticulous, intuitive, focused, open-minded, structured and spontaneous type of gal who is equally comfortable with words, visuals and numbers, all within a concoction of nuanced perspectives.

Too many people consider the arts and sciences to be mutually exclusive. Yet art is a science and science is an art. Renaissance men and women as well as multi-hyphenates master vast methods and specialize in versatility. They prove that coalescing conflicting concepts into a potent potion of compelling creativity not only improves individual lives, but also improves communities.

With the work that I do, and the business I have built, I don’t feel torn between multiple personalities. Instead, I benefit from my distinct ability to innately comprehend a wide range of perspectives. I treasure my capability to serve as a valuable bridge who continuously fuses various different worlds that too many people deem to be polar opposites of one another. While a significant population gravitates to the extremes, I typically find myself somewhere in the middle with my arms stretched out wide for a broad embrace.

When I partner with artists and other professional creatives, I’m able to speak their language while offering sympathetic structure, organization and clarity. When I collaborate with those who are more analytical and technological, I navigate within their systems to provide the human touch with an organic flow. In my decade-plus career as an award-winning journalist, I specialized in the most controversial and complex topics that require both scrutiny and sensitivity.

My creative tools also span the spectrum. I work within complicated spreadsheets and write in code, while I also express a vast visual vocabulary and poetic use of language. When I make plans, I confidently design a solid foundation that welcomes space for spontaneity. And throughout all I do, I continuously bounce between being creator and receiver, shifting between expressing and listening.

How people perceive me can be similarly contradictory. Introverts have called me a social butterfly and a “chatty catty,” while extroverts have criticized me for being “a loner” and someone who needs her space.

I felt so liberated when I learned the word “ambivert” a couple years ago. It means someone who is part introvert and part extrovert – another alternative middle-of-the-road designation that suits me well.

I experience the strongest sense of balance when half of my waking life is social and the other half is me spending time with me. Vocal in nature, I thrive off of quality conversations and supporting others. I have also experienced some of my greatest joys on my own while problem solving, coasting along with creative flow and engaging with the outside world. I’m extremely comfortable speaking in front of large groups of people and introducing myself to spark conversations with strangers. However, I can struggle when within superficial crowds, and I frequently burn out when surrounded by too much stimuli. I can’t function without my down time, nor can I function when I feel painfully alone without a voice, craving conversation and understanding.

While my centrist personality excludes me from conventional boxes, my intrinsic flexibility and ability to respect and identify with a vast spectrum of perspectives has become one of my most distinctive assets.

Such is my life as a both-brained ambivert.

black + white

insight

not black or white
not quite

we are blind in black’s darkness and blinded by the brightest white
we laugh with pain and we cry with delight

so what is black?
what is white?

no color
all colors

we need color

the full spectrum
infrared through ultraviolet

what a sight…
the prism from dark to light
from night to day and day to night

illuminating
inspiring
igniting

our dreams
our realities

enriching glorious individualities

humanity…

(from the vault circa 2003-04… © Carrie Osgood)

Facebook = FB = Frustrating Boxes

FB classifications-01

Setting up my personal public Facebook page to complement my private & business pages was one more giant reminder of how I’m not someone who can be confined to conventional boxes.

Apparently, after designating that your page is for a person, you must pick ONLY ONE option to describe who you are, what you do, and what you will be showing on your page.

I picked Entrepreneur because that was the only umbrella category that can encompass most of what I do. However, others who know me and have worked with me would also classify my professional offerings and proven accomplishments as any or all of the following (in alphabetical order): Artist, Blogger, Business Person, Coach, Designer, Journalist, Photographer, Producer, Teacher & Writer.

Those who knew me way back when also remember me as a Director and Musician. I’m still a “Director” outside of traditional entertainment as a Creative Director, Design Director, Art Director & Editorial Director. I’m also working toward becoming a published Author and inspirational Public Figure.

So with all of those boxes I’d already like to be able to check off, what happens if I take a closer look at the remaining categories. While I don’t consider myself as any of the following in any type of official, professional capacity, is there a way for me to still be any of these as well?

• Actor: No thank you. But as I mentioned, my undergraduate degree was in Directing theater and film. I’m also a trained public speaker, and was the lead in my high school musical way back in the day.
Athlete: Obviously I’m not a professional, nor am I competitive with a super hard body, but I do exercise and try to take care of myself.
• Chef: I’m able to cook, but it’s not fun for me so I leave it to others who make my life much tastier.
Comedian: Not specifically, although I’ve been fortunate to be able to watch people laugh out loud when reading some of my writing.
• Dancer: Occasionally – mostly when I’m home alone and no one is watching.
• Entertainer: While much of my work can entertain, that is not my primary intention.
Fictional Character: When I was in elementary school, some kids were scared of me because they feared I had psychic powers like Stephen King’s “Carrie.” Several people also liked to call me “Carrie Bradshaw” from Sex and the City during my 16-year stint living and working in NYC, especially when I wrote about her in a well-received column that discussed relationships in popular TV shows and then years later when I lived just a couple blocks away from her apartment on Perry Street in the West Village.
• Government Official: Whew! Glad there’s at least one I’m thrilled to say I’m definitely not!
Movie Character: See “Fictional Character” – and add that the first other Carrie I ever knew existed was Princess Leia in the Star Wars closing credits.
News Personality: I’m not, but I have had clients who are.
Pet: When I’m with the right man – Sorry 😉
Politician: Whew x 2! (see Government Official) – Granted, I did spend the first chunk of my career immersed in corporate politics, and I was an election data specialist at the Associated Press, fluent in political speak like delegate math, voter demographics and the electoral college.
• Scientist: Well, my design degree was a Master of SCIENCE, and I’ve participated in STEM/STEAM events (Science, Technology, Engineering, [Arts] & Math).

So with that, I’ve found a way to be almost all of the 27/29 categories Facebook considers to be separate disconnected entities. Fortunately, being out of the box can turn frustration into some fun.